AIGA x Google Design Census

Take the AIGA x Google Design Census before it closes December 15, 2016.

Unless you’re part of a small group of people who see a questionnaire and can’t wait to fill it out (confession, I am one of these people) the words “Design Census” might not immediately spark joy, but the new AIGA x Google Design Census is not your average intake form. It’s not even your average design survey, which tend to reach only a handful of people with rudimentary, income-related questions.

The Design Census, on the other hand, is going big and broad with an inclusive platform (AIGA membership is not required) and diverse set of questions aimed at generating a more holistic picture of designers, their relationships with one another, and their relationships with the world. And it’s open-source, too, meaning we’ll turn all the unmediated, unfiltered results over to you. It’s part of our effort to get real information into the hands of designers, policy makers, the media, and anyone interested in arming themselves with facts that can affect real change—personally, professionally, in the community, and in the wider world.

Here at AIGA (the mothership that produces Eye on Design, among many, many other things), getting a clearer understanding of the design community is key to creating innovative programming and better serving our 26,000+ members. But what’s in it for Google, you may be asking? We spoke with Jonathan Lee, lead of Google Material Design and chapter president of AIGA/NY, and Amber Bravo, editorial and content strategy for Google Design (who’s been busy producing the excellent SPAN reader and helping to launch a new site for Material Design).

AIGA x Google Design Census

“The main impetus for this project was to breathe new life into AIGA’s old and very well loved salary survey,” says Bravo. “We thought it was important that project reflected some of Google’s core values, like being open, inclusive, curious, and ‘made with tech.’” Lee agrees, “The official mission of the company is to organize the world’s information and then make it useful and accessible.”

In order to generate useful and accessible data, you have to gather it in an equally accessible, user-friendly way. This not only means sharing the Design Census as far and wide as possible in order to tap into a diverse pool of participants, but it also applies to the look and feel of the Design Census, which Bravo says riffs on “the vernacular of standardized tests with… more qualitative expression—questions that ask designers their feelings about professional mobility, or provide emoji options for answering a quantitative question like ‘How many hours you work a week?’”

So if we assume that, as in years past, tens of thousands of designers take the survey and we end up with an amazing data set, what do you do once we turn that information over? Check your salary against other designers in your zip code and then check out? Uh-uh. “That’s when this census will really distinguish itself,” says Bravo.

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On a practical level, Lee points out that “For the last few years, we’ve seen a lot of designers migrating to different cities, and when you’re moving around I think having access to information about what you can expect to be paid in that market is incredibly useful, because if you’re thinking about moving to California to work at a tech start-up, you don’t necessarily know what you should be paid.”

“Hopefully the possibilities for comparative analysis will enable people to make more informed choices about their life and work,” says Bravo. “It will help educators know where the jobs are and the skills that the next generation will need to be prepared for, and it will let us rally around our industry collectively as advocates for growth and change. I also think there’s another use case, which is those in an influencer position who are affecting policy or legislation or are in media.”

Data parsing is one thing, but at a time when fake news and false statistics are casually tossed about, Lee reminds us that “it’s really important to have a neutral point of reference, and one that has the authority of an institution like AIGA.”

We’re really excited to see what designers will do with the data visually, too. Not just to make it accessible for the design community, but for businesses and organizations who may be late to the design-thinking conversation. To that effect Lee poses this challenge: “Be proactive about redefining our relationship to our evolving roles in all industries. A side effect of of the world becoming design-minded means that we have to continually be ready to change or evolve to match those challenges. I think people are realizing that public policy is in our hands, and if technology is everywhere, then it’s really our job to be ready to move quickly.” Take the Design Census, change the world, NBD.